Parts of this interview were conducted in Spanish and have been translated. Read it in Spanish here.
Two weeks ago, Albert Pujols became just the ninth player in MLB history to hit his 600th home run — and he did it in style, on a grand slam against the Twins in Anaheim. Now, in his 17th year in MLB, Pujols sat with Marly Rivera to reflect on hitting the milestone, representing his homeland, and what it’s like to play with Mike Trout.
What does it mean to you to be one of the most prolific foreign-born hitters in MLB history?
Well, first of all, I give thanks to the Lord for giving me the talent and the ability to play this game. It’s obviously a dream come true. As a little boy coming from the Dominican Republic, all you want is just the opportunity to play baseball. I got the opportunity and I just took advantage. I worked hard every day, never took anything for granted, never put my head down, never threw the towel when people told me that I wasn’t good enough, and just always have that chip in my shoulder. When people are negative toward you, I believe that in God’s eyes he has a better plan for you and I always try to stay positive and work hard and do the best that I can. And that’s how I’ve been for 18 years as a professional and since I was a little boy.
Is that “chip on your shoulder” the secret sauce — the recipe of your success?
Always. Always. And to never forget where you come from. It’s just a lot of hard work and knowing that it wasn’t given to you. They give you an opportunity but you need to take advantage. I always say if somebody is going to take my jersey, they’re going to have to really outwork me; work harder than me.
More people have walked on the moon that have hit 600 home runs, is it a dream come true to become one of greatest sluggers in history of the game?
Well, if I tell you a dream come true, it’s a lie, because I never thought in my career that I was going to be able to hit 600 home runs. I know that I have a special skill and talent. We all go back with giving God all the glory and all the credit because I don’t think if it wouldn’t have been for Him, I would be sitting here doing this interview with you.
I stayed healthy for a long time the years that I played in St. Louis. Here at the Angels I’ve had several injuries, I’ve missed a lot of games, but at the same time I’ve finished the season very well. But whether I imagined 600 home runs? No. Did I ever set it as a goal? Never.
You [thank] family and friends, coaches, staff. You have so many people that I can thank in my whole career as a professional, even high school and college, as a young little boy in the Dominican Republic, because you always have to have some people to help you out (along) the way. I had some great coaches and great teammates that helped me along the way, from Plácido Polanco, Edgar Rentería, Mark McGwire, one of the best managers that ever (managed) the game, Tony LaRussa. Now being here, having another future Hall of Fame manager, (Mike Scioscia). You have to have some great people around, and I am just blessed to be able to have to people around me.
You are the ninth player to do it. Does that mean something to you?
I am just blessed to be able to do that. I am blessed to be named in the same list of those great players. When I look up, and now we can say it’s been almost two weeks since I reached  — when you look at 20 something thousand players played this game and to be able to be No. 9 to hit 600, it’s pretty special. I don’t get caught up in those types of numbers. I think maybe when I am done playing we do another interview and I can be more excited about it but as of right now, I think my main goal is to try to help to help this ball club win a championship and that is what I am here for.
When you were little in the Dominican Republic, who did you look up to and want to be like?
To tell you the truth, Julio César Franco. As a little boy I always came to the stadium (Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) and I would watch just the way he took BP and the way that he approached the game. It seems like yesterday that he retired, and I don’t think he [actually] retired; he’s playing independent ball somewhere. But just the (physical) shape, the hard work, he never took anything for granted. It’s just amazing. And I was honored to have the opportunity to play against him while I was still back with the Cardinals; he was with the Mets and the Braves. And I told him, ‘Man, I just really need to get this out of my heart, I need to tell you this’, and I shared the story, that I used to go and be in the bleachers early, watching him take batting practice and play the game. He is one of the best hitters that came out of the Dominican Republic.
Can you believe that with 10 more home runs you’ll have the most of any Dominican player in MLB history?
Not really. I can’t believe it, but it’s an honor; a blessing. I take a lot of pride in representing my homeland, the Dominican Republic, and knowing that all my people send prayers, not only for Albert Pujols but to all the Dominicans who are here in the major leagues; it’s a blessing.
I might get to that milestone but maybe in 20 years, I hope there might be another Dominican player that does it and passes me. That will tell you the product that is coming out of not just the Dominican, but Latin America, period. I think we have so many young players right now from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic, you name it.
There wasn’t much national fanfare or recognition for you after you got to the 600-HR mark. Do you believe fans, particularly due to all the PED allegations that have been made against others, have lost interest in such an exceptional achievement?
I don’t think that way. You can’t force people to celebrate something. I don’t want all of the U.S. to throw a party because I reached that (600-HR) milestone. But I know that my people in the Dominican Republic enjoyed it as much as I did. And that’s the most important thing, that my people enjoyed it. They enjoyed it and were waiting for it. Everything basically stopped, and I share these achievements with them. But the word of God says that you are not put on this Earth to please others but to honor God, and that’s my focus. I focus on honoring God first because it’s very difficult to please people. It’s very difficult. The day you can’t please someone they will say bad things about you. You can’t control that. What you can control is yourself. And if people want to celebrate, amen if they celebrated. If they didn’t, that doesn’t matter to me.
Throughout history there have been certain players that make everyone stop what they’re doing when they come to the plate. You’ve been one of those players, as well as Barry Bonds, Manny Ramírez, and many others, or as Aaron Judge is now. Is there a player that you stop everything you’re doing to watch his at-bat?
Right now, as you know, I have the opportunity to play alongside the best player [in all of MLB], Mike Trout. But besides my teammate, the one that I will always stop what I am doing if I am not playing is Miguel Cabrera. For me, he’s the best right-handed hitter in the major leagues right now. Perhaps he can become the next to player to join the 500-HR and even 600-HR club if he stays healthy. But Miggy is that player, that if I am not busy, I stop to watch his swing because it’s a compact swing. His swing and mine are pretty similar. And what can you say about wearing the same uniform and sharing the field with the best player there is right now, Mike Trout? That has been a blessing.
What is the main difference between Albert Pujols when he started his career and now, after several big contracts?
Maybe now I have things, after two contracts, but that can’t change the person. Money doesn’t change people. I think the people around you change because they don’t want to get close to you believing that now that you have money you’re going to change. And I don’t believe that people change because of money. That’s a lie. Money is a piece of paper. You really can’t forget where you came from. I have the same friends from my youth; from my childhood. Every time I go to the Dominican Republic I hang out as if I didn’t have anything. Because actually in the end, when your time is over and God calls upon you, you can’t take anything with you. What you can take are the good memories of the things that you’ve done since you were very little until your last days on Earth. And that’s what I try to do every day. I try to take advantage of this platform that God has given me to bless others. These 17 years in the big leagues, I have taken advantage of every opportunity I have been given.
Future HOF Player….what about future HOF manager?
Well, we’ll see where we are at.